Weta Tackles More Avatar
BD: What went into making the Sturmbeest?
ES: We did eight versions of them: the juveniles and the males and females. And through Massive, we actually plugged this information in so you could get more variety and complexity in the animation: the females try to protect the small ones a little bit and the males try to be a little more dominant in the attacks. In the wide shots we had around 200 in the herd and in the mid-shots it was closer to 30.
BD: Next is the school house sequence?
ES: Yeah, it has the Lorax in it and that was always my favorite book growing up, so I liked getting that into the movie. The school house sequence shows the backstory more about where Grace taught the kids and, as you walk around, you notice bullet holes in the chalkboard and you know something bad has happened there, so it's a really good way to show why they're so afraid of interaction with the humans.
BD: And the extended death of Tsut'sey?
ES: That's the other big sequence we added. In the original movie, you saw Tsut'sey fall out o the plane after he got shot. This shows Tsut'sey hitting the ground, falling down through the trees, like Jake did early on, and then hitting the ground. And then Jake and Neytiri come to Tsut'sey and having a dialog about Jake taking over the tribe and being the leader. It's a pass the torch scene between Jake and Tsut'sey. I really like it -- it's a beautiful scene, a very well-lit scene, and I'm glad it got back in the movie.
ES: We actually only added about five shots to that one [capped by having their braids touch and Jake's gasp]. It just happens to be the one that everyone watches and goes, "Ooh!"
BD: Anything else?
ES: He added back in the spaceship coming in to Pandora; there was a bar scene that was added in from earth where Jake sticks up for a woman; and a shot where he sees his brother's face, which transitions into his face in the end because, obviously, they're twins.
BD: How have things changed at Weta post Avatar?
ES: We've changed quite a few things in our pipeline for the better.
BD: Such as?
ES: Asset management so we can track our information a little bit better. In Avatar, some of the scenes are so big and we ended up with so much data. At the end of the day, we used a petabyte of data. So controlling all of this information and knowing where it is and getting it back was a bit of a problem. A lot of the things we're doing are just to prepare us for doing big movies again. For example, Tintin is a huge movie. The number of assets for Tintin far exceeds the number for Avatar just because it is a full-CG movie with full environments, so we needed a better asset management system.
BD: And I imagine you're hard at work improving fur simulation for Rise of the Apes.
ES: That's a huge one. And we're doing other films that are going to require a lot more simulation: The Hobbit, hopefully, at some point. And Gulliver's Travels, another Fox film, is one where we're improving our effects pipeline considerably. We're always changing our pipeline but improving it.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.